Friday, March 13, 2015

'Teach philosophy in British primary schools,' says academic

Professor Angie Hobbs believes just one philosophy class a week would benefit children’s intellectual and social development

“If we leave questioning the models children have been taught until later in life, it could be too late," warns Professor Angie Hobbs. "That is why we need to start teaching philosophy in primary school.”

By this the professor means that children should be taught from a young age that there are other ways of seeing the world to the one they are exposed to by their family and social circle.

It's a pertinent and timely point to make, especially considering the current debate around the risk of 'radicalisation' facing young people.

Hobbs is currently the only professor of public understanding of philosophy in the world. She believes that just one philosophy class a week could benefit children’s intellectual and social development.

Her department at the University of Sheffield – along with organisations such as The Philosophy Foundation – are currently pioneering the teaching of ancient Greek philosophy in UK primary schools.

Hobbs has taught Plato and Heraclitus to classes of seven-year-olds and says that "children respond very well to fundamental questions, such as 'What makes me, me? What is time? Does nothing exist?”.

She tells me that, in her experience, children love Zeno's paradox 'the moving arrow is motionless' or the Cretan liar paradox. "I tell them ‘I always lie’, and then ask ‘am I lying now?’” she says.

Learning ancient Greek philosophy at a young age taps into children’s “natural curiosity, their imaginative and intellectual zest”. Hobbs says that the natural ability children have to imagine other worlds and leap through time – the reason for their love of books such as Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings – is the same ability needed to grasp Plato.

Hobbs has taught Plato to classes of seven-year-olds

Hobbs thinks philosophy is “a greatly underused resource in the UK” and is critical of the government’s education policy.

“Some of those in Government – and not just Michael Gove in his former role – have said that primary education should mainly be about the acquisition of facts and knowledge, and that children can ask questions later. I think this is wrong.”

Interest in philosophy is growing, however. Only this month, Hobbs received over 1,000 enquiries from listeners after appearing on Desert Island Discs.

In a country with increasingly diverse classrooms, Hobbs also believes having debates on Greek philosophy in primary schools can help build bridges of understanding between children from different backgrounds:

“Ancient Greek philosophy is a shared cultural resource and it belongs to all of us. It is great to use with primary school kids because, although some Greek philosophers were religious, they were not espousing modern religious ideology, so you can get a class of mixed or no faith kids and tackle these big questions in an inclusive way.

“Studying Greek philosophy will show them from a very early age that it is good to ask questions. It helps protect them from all sorts of indoctrination – from religious and political extremists, from gangs, even from their teachers,” she explains.

Studying these philosophical concepts can also help children cope with the choices and challenges life presents them with, Hobbs argues.

“Studying philosophy can get children to understand that there are lots of different ways of thinking, being, living and seeing the world,” she says.

Hobbs is certain there can even be distinct therapeutic benefits to studying philosophy. For example, exploring the ancient Greek Stoics’ theories on accepting loss of control and change can help young children gain “a robustness” and a sense that it is normal not to be happy all the time.

I ask Hobbs which books make the best springboard for children exploring philosophy at home: "I have to say now that I have a vested interest in The Philosophy Shop as I am a contributor," she laughs, "but it is a great book and is filled with puzzles, stories and activities."


Faith schools 'damaged by British values curriculum', says MP

Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP, will say that the idea that Catholics are being radicalised in state schools is "ridiculous" and "offensive"

The idea that Catholics are being radicalised in state schools is "ridiculous" and "offensive", the Conservative MP for Gainsborough will say today during a parliamentary debate on education, regulation and faith schools.

Sir Edward Leigh, who is also the president of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, will say in a speech that "faith schools should hold their heads up high" and should stand for Christian values, according to fragments of his speech seen by the Telegraph.

"[Faith schools] should not engage in the pre-emptive cringe and kowtow to the latest fashion but should stand by the principles that have made them such a success: love for God and neighbour; pursuit of truth; high-aspiration and discipline," Sir Edward will say.

“The idea that Catholics are being radicalised in state schools is as ridiculous as it is offensive,” he will say.

The comments will follow accusations against Ofsted, the education watchdog, of making unfair claims against a small number of faith schools. Last year, St Benedict's Catholic School in Suffolk was downgraded from “good” to “requires improvement”, as part of a string of inspections last term.

The Catholic comprehensive was part of a list of 11 schools that were accused of “failing to prepare pupils for life in Britain”. It was ruled that St Benedict’s was among those not able to fulfil new British values requirements introduced last September.

Separately, Durham Free School is set to be closed down after it was declared inadequate for – among other issues – failing the Government’s new British values tests, introduced following the so-called Trojan Horse scandal, in which radical Muslim groups tried to infiltrate schools in Birmingham.

Sir Edward will say “the Education Minister must make clear to Ofsted that having a religion ethos is not a negative thing. There are no Anglican or Catholic jihadists. Christian assemblies do not encourage extremism.”

A Department of Education spokesperson said: “It is not true to suggest that schools would ever be penalised for having a faith ethos.

“School are neither discriminated against nor given special treatment based on any religious belief. All schools are treated equally and inspected in the same way – any suggestion otherwise is wrong.

“We want every school to promote the basic British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs so that all children are prepared for life in modern Britain. Ofsted play a key part in ensuring this takes place.”

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector and a former head teacher of a Catholic secondary school, has previously laughed off suggestions that he’s presiding over “some sort of state-sponsored anti-faith school ‘witch hunt’”. He’s also said most faith schools “have nothing to fear either from Ofsted or from the recent guidance issued by the Department for Education on promoting British values as part of the curriculum.”

However, Sir Edward will say: “So-called “British values” is a classic bureaucratic response to a problem and it is damaging Christian schools.

“The truth is that real British values are Christian values. It is the influence of Christianity that made us one of the most tolerant and successful nations on earth. Not this artificial nonsense dreamed up by officials.”



Technology leader invests to train 100,000 Australian students in 21st century skills

Cisco Systems Australia Pty Ltd today announced a five-year investment program expanding to train over 100,000 Australian tertiary and school students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills.

AUSTEM 2020 is a new program, which builds on Cisco Australia’s long-term commitment to tackle the STEM skills shortage and help create an innovation economy, boost productivity and boost jobs growth.

Cisco Australia and New Zealand Vice President, Ken Boal made the announcement: “The Australian economy is in transition, and there has never been a more important time to invest in the programs that will equip students with the skills they need to secure the jobs of the future.”

Cisco’s AUSTEM 2020 consists of:

    A $21 million projected investment in the Cisco Networking Academy® program over five years to train some 100,000 students via public-partnerships with not-for-profit higher education providers and schools in industry relevant, job-ready technology skills.

    5,000 students connected to STEM career and job opportunities by 2020 through the Find Yourself in the Future program to be offered to Cisco® Networking Academy students, who are coming up to the final stages of studies and making plans for entry into the job market.

    500 students to participate in the Cisco Live Melbourne 2015 Student Summit engaging existing and new STEM students in how technology will shape the future.

    AUS2020 mentoring commitment that will see 20 per cent of Cisco Australia staff providing 20 hours of mentoring to existing and prospective tertiary education and school STEM students, totalling some 5,000 mentoring hours per year.

In addition, Cisco will be delivering opportunities that specially target young women such as the Cisco Women Rock-IT program, where some 1,000 girls per year in Australia will participate in quarterly webinars to learn more about how IT skills can open up interesting and rewarding careers. 

Since 1998, Cisco Australia has invested more than $50 million in the Networking Academy program in Australia, which has trained more than 130,000 students on ICT skills. Cisco Australia collaborates with over 120 higher education institutions and works with 490 instructors for its Networking Academy.

Recently appointed to the Commonwealth Science Council and as President of the Business/Higher Education Roundtable, Mr Boal said that STEM skills were identified by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, as the cornerstone of our modern economy.

“Science and innovation are recognised internationally as key for boosting productivity, creating more and better jobs, enhancing competitiveness and growing our economy,” Mr Boal said. 

Cisco’s commitment is to collaborate with government, business, education and the wider community to help build Australia’s STEM capabilities.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

How Lawmakers Are Trying to Control San Francisco’s Catholic Schools

San Franciscans are currently debating a simple question: Should the government respect the right of Catholic schools to be authentically Catholic?

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone thinks so. But eight California senators and assemblymen sent the archbishop a letter last month, saying that his actions in issuing new faculty guidelines “foment a discriminatory environment in the communities we serve.” On Feb. 23, two of the signers even asked the California Assembly Labor and Employment Committee and the Assembly Judiciary Committee to investigate the archdiocese’s actions.

Here’s the back story. During contract renegotiations with nearly 500 staff members last month, the archdiocese issued an updated faculty guide for its Catholic high schools. The addendum introduced three new clauses—which staff members are required to “affirm and believe”—denouncing masturbation, pornography, same-sex marriage, contraception and other issues that, in line with Catholic teaching, are described as “gravely evil.”

These beliefs shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the Catholic Church—the 2,000-year-old institution has clearly defined its moral teachings throughout the years. Yet lawmakers objected, contending in a Feb. 17 letter to the archdiocese that the new guide is “divisive.” They asserted that by spelling out the teachings of the Catholic Church and requiring high-school staff to not publicly undermine those teachings, teachers could be dismissed for private decisions not in accord with Catholic teaching.

The archbishop responded, calling the idea that the clauses could apply to an employee’s private life a “falsehood” in a Feb. 19 letter. Then he put a question to the lawmakers: “Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those that you stand for, and who shows disrespect toward you and the Democratic Party in general?” Of course they wouldn’t, and Archbishop Cordileone summed up the problem: “I respect your right to employ or not employ whomever you wish to advance your mission. I simply ask the same respect from you.”

Archbishop Cordileone also explained that the mission of Catholic education is to ensure that students receive a complete education: intellectually, spiritually and morally. If teachers are to fulfill this goal, they must be consistent in what they teach in the classroom and in what they advocate in the public square.

American business and civic institutions frequently make choices to remain true to principles even when it is unfashionable or may hurt their bottom line—for example, CVS last year pulled cigarettes from shelves, calling the sale of tobacco “inconsistent with our purpose—helping people on their path to better health.” This choice is even more essential for religious schools, which must be able to have teachers who support—or at least don’t publicly attack—the school’s beliefs. Lawmakers shouldn’t be using threats of governmental investigation to control those decisions.

Yet similar coercion is taking place throughout the country. Last year, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges opened an investigation into Gordon College—a Christian school. The association gave the college a year to review its conduct standards, which ask all members of the Gordon community to live by the Christian virtue of chastity—with the implication that Gordon could be at risk of losing accreditation. Gordon is currently undergoing that internal review and says it plans to submit a report later this year.

Elsewhere, the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate has created a comparable threat for Notre Dame and Wheaton College—both of which are plaintiffs in ongoing lawsuits. That mandate forces religious schools to provide and pay for coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization regardless of a school’s religious objection. The law would compel these colleges either to stop offering health insurance altogether—and incur steep fines—or to violate their deeply held beliefs.

In January, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the euphemistically titled “Human Rights Amendment Act.” The bill would compel Washington’s private religious schools to violate their beliefs about human sexuality by recognizing LGBT student groups or hosting a “gay pride” day on campus. The bill is currently under congressional review.

Provided private schools meet basic standards of safety and education, the government shouldn’t be in the business of coercing them to conform to someone else’s moral beliefs. After all, many families send their children to private schools precisely to escape government moral indoctrination. It is because of these schools’ distinctive creeds that families sacrifice to afford sending their children to private religious schools. Government officials should respect the ability of such schools to witness to their faith.

This is why public policy should protect Archbishop Cordileone’s decision to ensure that Catholic high schools retain an authentic Catholic identity. The revisions to the school handbook foster an equilibrium between institutional integrity and personal liberties. This freedom is exactly what allows all Americans—in whichever school they choose to attend—to live in a diverse and civil public sphere.


British pupils as young as 11 to be taught about rape, alcohol and dressing provocatively in new classes

Schools are to teach pupils as young as 11 about rape and consensual sex, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced yesterday.

Children will be encouraged to discuss what they have learnt about sex from pornography, and if it is possible to agree to sex when drunk.

The lessons, which also challenge children to talk about gay rape, are being added to the education syllabus for secondary schools and could come in as soon as the summer term.

The formal guidance commissioned by the Government tells teachers that courses should begin 'before young people are sexually active, otherwise it is too late'.

But parent groups last night raised concerns that the changes to sex education would lead to the 'erosion of childhood' and could put children under more pressure to have sex.

The classes will be based on resources being developed by the PSHE Association – a government-funded organisation created in 2006 to advise on personal and social education.

Teachers will be encouraged to discuss 'rape myths' such as the notion that a woman consents to sex by 'teasing' a man or dressing provocatively.

They will also be told to inform children that most rapes are committed by people known to the victim, while pupils will be encouraged to imagine scenarios such as the morning after having sex while drunk.

Suggested questions for teachers to ask include: 'What misconceptions about consent would an alien get if their only evidence was from pornography?'

Pupils will also be told analyse statements such as: 'If a woman is raped while drunk she is at least somewhat responsible'.

Drop boxes will also be placed in classrooms so pupils can post questions anonymously.

Mrs Morgan, who has a seven-year-old son, stressed that the recommended materials will be age appropriate and are aimed at giving teachers more confidence to teach difficult subjects.

She said the recommended list of resources will be issued to schools to ensure information is not 'at odds with fundamental British values'.

Announcing the plans in an article for the Sunday Times, Mrs Morgan wrote: 'We have to face the fact that many pressures girls face today were unimaginable to my generation and it's our duty to ensure that our daughters leave school able to navigate the challenges they'll face in adulthood.'

But last night Margaret Morrissey from campaign group Parents Outloud accused Mrs Morgan of risking 'real damage to our children'. She said: 'Most children do not need to be made aware of these things at such a young age and could be left frightened by these lessons.  'We are bringing on a generation of children who are having their childhood constantly eroded.'

Sarah Carter, of the Family Education Trust, said: 'I work with vulnerable teenagers who have been groomed and this is not going to protect them. This creates the idea that you will find yourself in this situation so make sure you give express consent.'

However the move was praised by Sarah Green, of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, who said: 'We welcome Nicky Morgan's recognition of the importance and urgency of ensuring young people learn in school about what seeking and giving consent means.'

A spokesman for the Department for Education said the aim was to prepare young people 'for life in modern Britain'.

He added: 'We are ensuring teachers have high-quality resources and appropriate support and guidance so they can tackle the issues facing young people today.'

The PSHE Association is now calling for Mrs Morgan to make sex education compulsory in all of England's state primary and secondary schools, as recommended by the Education Select Committee last month.


UK: Star science and maths pupils get £15,000 bribe to be teachers

Former staff will also be offered incentives to encourage them to return to the classroom

Top maths and science A-level students are to be offered £15,000 to help with university costs in return for a commitment to teach for three years after graduating, David Cameron will say today.

Former teachers who have left the profession will also be offered incentives to return to classrooms as part of a Government drive to recruit thousands of new specialists in key subjects.

Skilled professionals in sectors such as engineering or medicine will be encouraged to retrain as teachers.

New part-time courses designed to allow people to train while continuing to work or look after a family will also be offered, and three new schools specialising in technology and science will be opened.

New physics degrees will be piloted in ten top universities which will allow students to get a teaching qualification alongside their three-year degree course.

And paid internships are to be made available to maths and physics undergraduates from next summer to give them the opportunity to experience teaching before they commit to it as a career.

In all, Mr Cameron will pledge that 17,500 new and existing teachers will be trained in maths and science.

In a speech in the Midlands, the Prime Minister will say: 'Delivering the best start in life for every child is a key part of our long-term economic plan. I come at this as a parent, not just a politician.

'A great education system won't just help our country succeed in the future; it will give families peace of mind that their kids can realise their full potential.

'That doesn't just mean building more good school places; it means teaching children what they need to know to make something of themselves.

'That's why I want to make Britain the best place in the world to learn maths and science – and because of our growing economy, we have a clear plan to deliver the best teachers to make this happen.'

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan will say: 'As part of our plan for education we need excellent teachers in every classroom to prepare children for life in modern Britain.

'We want to attract more high quality candidates to teach maths and physics and further raise the status of teaching as a rewarding career.

'By offering more flexible routes, we will open up the teaching profession to talented career changers who can bring a wealth of experience and transferrable skills to the classroom.

'The plans announced today will raise standards in maths and physics further to ensure more children leave school with these valuable skills and can go on to compete for the top jobs and succeed in life.'

But Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: 'What we need is a properly thought out strategy for teacher training, not a knee-jerk reaction to shortages. This means Government knowing where the gaps are and planning ahead.

'The push for high-quality teachers needs to include primary teachers too; primary schools need maths and science specialists, particularly given that the curriculum in these subjects has become much more demanding.

'Good salaries and working conditions are essential if graduates are to be attracted to the teaching profession.'


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Loophole That Could Liberate Maryland From Common Core Testing

As millions of students across the nation begin taking Common Core-aligned standardized tests for the first time, Maryland finds itself in a unique position to opt-out.

A loophole discovered by a state lawmaker gives the governor the power to withdraw Maryland from tests created by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which are designed to assess how well students are learning under the Common Core standards.

“It’s important for Maryland because the PARCC assessments and the consortium already—in its very short life—has shown clear evidence that it was poorly developed, poorly managed, and crammed down the throats of the states,” said David Vogt III, a Republican member of the state assembly.

The loophole grants the newly elected governor, Republican Larry Hogan, the authority to either recommit or remove Maryland from the PARCC exams within the first five months of holding office.

Maryland’s legislature remains Democratically controlled.

Vogt is rallying a coalition of parents, educators, and administrators to pressure Hogan to pull the state out of PARCC.

“[PARCC’s] not only unconstitutional, but it’s a hindrance to the education system of Maryland,” Vogt said. “Education was built to be a state-managed and operated function and the governor exercising his authority here will put it back in the state of Maryland’s hands.”

The timing of the discovery is significant, because Maryland, along with a number of other states, is officially administering the new Common Core-aligned tests for the very first time, despite protests that have sparked across the nation.

Tony Piacente, the father of an 8th grader who goes to school in Mechanicsville, Md., told The Daily Signal that he’s been battling St. Mary’s County and the State Department of Education for over six weeks trying to refuse his son’s participation in PARCC.

“They are trying to bully me into submission,” he said. “I get contradictory statements from both places and they still have yet to provide me the law or regulation that states my child must participate in the PARCC to graduate.”

Piacente said he opposes PARCC because, “The prep time and test time takes away over 30 plus hours of quality instructional time for students, kids are tested enough in class, and it places undue stress and pressure on kids of all age groups.”

Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery yesterday spoke out in support of the PARCC assessment, calling it “a tremendous opportunity to gain more insights than ever before into how our students are progressing, and identify where we can all do better.”

But Vogt believes he can garner enough momentum through grassroots organizations to pressure the governor to pull out of the tests.

“It’s fairly uniform across the board [that] everybody’s concerned about the testing problems,” he said. “I’ve had phone calls and letters and emails come in — from parents and teachers who are in the public school system, to members of local school boards across the state.”

Without the PARCC exams, teachers would still be required to follow the Common Core curriculum.

Common Core proponents argue that PARCC and similar assessments are the best way for the federal government to ensure that states are faithfully implementing the standards.

Maryland, along with 45 other states, adopted the Common Core standards in 2010 as a way to ensure that kids are college and career ready, and to track student success in a way that’s comparable state-by-state.

Critics say the exams are too rigorous and detract from local and state control of the classroom. They also argue that states were incentivized by the Obama administration to adopt Common Core and its affiliated exams with $4.35 billion in Race to the Top grants and waivers from the No Child Left Behind law.

Maryland received a four-year, $250 million federal grant for fully implementing the standards by the 2014-2015 academic year.

State lawmakers will formally challenge Common Core this week, when they consider a number of proposals that intend to slow down or halt the process of implementing the standards.

A spokeswoman for Hogan told The Daily Signal that the governor is still deciding what to do about the PARCC tests.

“The governor has major concerns about ‘one-size fits-all’ standards like Common Core and PARCC, and he will be exploring ways to improve or remove them during his term,” Erin Montgomery, the spokeswoman, said.


Fees, philistinism and the future of Higher Education in Britain

The tuition fees debate shows how philistine leaders have become

The UK Labour Party put an end to speculation last week and confirmed its much-touted plan to win over the British electorate. The big, bold move, designed to seduce the undecided, inspire the disillusioned, and convince virgin-voters, is to cut university tuition fees by £3,000 per year. Party leader Ed Miliband appeared in awe of his own ambition as he announced the proposal - his grand rhetoric of promises, faith and change only being undercut by the reality of a plan which amounts to a few graduates potentially having a few quid extra at some point in the future.

Many commentators have been quick to point out the flaws in Miliband’s pledge. When it comes to loans, it’s what you have to pay back that matters, and that’s only partly determined by the amount you borrow: interest rates and the duration of the loan can count for far more. Graduates who go on to earn little will never hit the repayment threshold; however much their loans total is immaterial.

Even with Labour’s proposed price cut, the majority of graduates will continue paying for their ‘student experience’ throughout their working lives. Only those few who leave university for a highly paid job and pay their loans back extra quickly will gain from a cut in the ticket price. School-leavers have done this maths for themselves and have calculated that taking out a loan on the never-never is worth it. Despite much scaremongering, the 2012 leap in tuition fees heralded neither a collapse in student numbers overall, nor a fall in applicants from the poorest families: both have continued to climb.

Miliband has successfully prompted discussion, albeit a frustratingly narrow one, over the current arrangements for funding higher education. At present, almost half of all students will not pay back their loans, meaning government has had to set aside £2 billion this year to write-down unpaid debt. If this continues, £20 billion of student debt a year will be written off by 2048/49, making fees notionally paid by individuals more expensive to the taxpayer than if university was simply free at the point of entry.

There is clearly a need to talk about university funding, and a General Election provides a useful opportunity to do just that. But the current rhetorical bluster over trivial sums of money is a phoney debate played out to create a pretence of difference between the main political parties, while at the same time perpetuating all the same old assumptions that have driven higher-education policy for at least the past three decades.

Politicians of all persuasions seem incapable of moving beyond the philistinism that sees higher education as anything other than a crudely instrumental solution to a range of social and economic problems. The last Labour government, and Peter Mandelson in particular, began in earnest the presentation of education as an individual investment. Students were told to expect a financial return on fees paid (the ‘graduate premium’). University was not about the pursuit of knowledge or learning for its own sake: it was about picking up a few transferable skills that could be cashed in with the degree certificate.

Far from challenging this degraded view of higher education, the Tories’ David Willetts continued to run with the same script. He has gone so far as to suggest that universities whose students go on to better-paid jobs should be able to charge higher fees, thereby making explicit the crude (and in reality only tentative) link between learning and earning.

Last week, the current Conservative universities minister, Greg Clark, took this idea of a financial transaction to its logical conclusion and argued that for young people, going to university was worth it because graduates ‘only pay back the price of a posh cup of coffee each day’. Such political grandstanding over trivial amounts of money serves to degrade both higher education and politics.

Even in its own terms, the current discussion of student finance is limited: no one is pitching the state funding of universities against a completely free market. Despite the critics’ incessant cries of ‘neoliberalism’, today’s higher-education sector is heavily state-subsidised and state-regulated. Limiting financial discussions to comparatively mundane concerns, while taking big issues off the agenda, speaks to a contempt for the electorate and a fear that they might reach the wrong conclusions.

It seems that no prospective universities minister can conceive of engaging with the public over the fundamental question of what higher education should be for. Yet it’s only through debating this issue first and foremost that we can track backwards to ask who should go to university and who should pay.

Amid all the discussion about fee cuts and cups of coffee, the Office For Fair Access, which monitors university admissions (established by the last Labour government in 2004, since continued and supported by the current coalition government), sets universities the goal of doubling their intake of ‘poorer students’ to 40,000 in the next five years. The assumption that higher education is primarily an inclusion project concerned with promoting social mobility through credentialising employability skills is not questioned.

Current political debates that focus exclusively on price completely ignore the value of education. This unedifying spectacle sunk to its seediest nadir with Labour’s announcement that its cut in tuition fees would be funded through raiding pensions. As Tom Slater pointed out on spiked, this promotion of intergenerational conflict does young people themselves no favours.

Just as damaging is the harm such mercenary accounting does to education. As philosophers such as Hannah Arendt and Michael Oakeshott have suggested, education is indeed a contract between the generations; it’s about adults assuming sufficient responsibility for the world to want to pass on to young people their intellectual inheritance. That this vitally important intergenerational concern with knowledge can be so easily reduced to a financial transaction tells us everything we need to know about the philistinism of all involved in the education debate in the run-up to the election.


The nasty nonsense of Israel Apartheid Week

When I was a student there was a popular drinking game called Centurion. Each student taking part is given a shot glass and a sick bucket. The aim is to do one shot of beer per minute for 100 minutes, and the sick bucket is so you can carry on poisoning yourself as fast as your body can reject it.

Yes, students have long been masters of the stupid and pointless. But sadly, in recent years, this grand tradition has seeped beyond the realms of mild alcohol poisoning for self-amusement into the sphere of university politics.

A case in point came last week with the eleventh annual Israel Apartheid Week (IAW). According to the campaign’s website, the aim of IAW is: ‘To educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns.’ What it amounts to on campus is pseudo-Israeli checkpoints, so-called apartheid walls and students wielding fake machine guns at each other. Leaflets on BDS are pushed on to all passing students and a steady stream of anti-Israel speakers and films is given priority in lecture halls and students’ union buildings all week.

It is stupid for many reasons, but the main one is that its premise is simply not true. Whatever you think of the way the Israeli government handles Gaza, Israel is not and never has been an apartheid state. In the upcoming Israeli election, the predominantly Arab party, the Joint Arab List, which includes Palestinian members, stands to win about 12 seats. To label the country an apartheid state does a great injustice to the decades of suffering of black South Africans under Afrikaner National Party rule.

But sadly this (literally) black-and-white thinking on Israel is now widespread among the anti-Israel brigade. It is, after all, much easier to get people onside if you can make them think a highly complex political situation is really just a case of goodies vs baddies. This kind of narrow-minded, one-sided debate is not worthy of the academic institutions in which it takes place, nor does it actually improve the situation for Palestinians. Do deluded IAW promoters really think that boycotting Sainsbury’s because it sells hummus will have any effect on what happens in Israel?

Just last week it was announced that more Israeli companies were listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2014 than of any other foreign country. The Israeli economy is certainly not feeling the BDS pinch.

But, of course, that is not the point. IAW is not about helping Palestinians, or achieving peace in the Middle East; it is about demonising Israel. And numerous campuses across the country are complicit in this.

Anti-Israel thinking on campus has become so prevalent that it is not even restricted to IAW. When the London School of Economics (LSE) invited Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub to speak at a public meeting, protesters blocked students from entering the event, and midway during the talk someone set off the fire alarm. Anti-Israel protesters are notorious for this kind of behaviour. Rather than posing questions and entering into free and open debates with pro-Israel speakers, they heckle, stage walkouts and pull stunts.

At the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the students’ union has taken its anti-Israel agenda several steps further. To coincide with IAW, it held a school-wide ‘referendum’ for an academic boycott of Israel. The ‘Yes’ campaign was led by the SU chairs themselves, ensuring the alienation of Jewish and pro-Israel students alike – they were isolated by their own union representatives.

For that is the effect of stunts like IAW. By demonising Israel it also demonises people who disagree that Israel is an apartheid state. The message is: if you are pro-Israel you are pro-apartheid, therefore you are a bad person. It is sadly Jewish students who often bear the brunt of this over-simplification. They spend IAW ‘intimidated’, ‘uncomfortable’, and some even avoid going to class.

Ironically, it is often campuses with Safe Space policies, promising zero tolerance of harassment and intimidation, that choose to look the other way when it comes to IAW. A gross double standard is at play within UK students’ unions and student bodies when it comes to Israel. There is no special week on campus dedicated to condemning countries with atrocious human-rights records, like Saudi Arabia or Iran, and foreign students have not so far boycotted the UK for causing far more death and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan than Israel ever has in Gaza. So why is Israel always singled out?

By promoting stunts like IAW, students are ignoring the grey areas and nuance of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It is possible to be pro-Israel, but disagree with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies, or be pro-Palestinian, but against BDS. There are plenty of people who support Israel’s right to exist and the Palestinians’ right to their own state, yet pro-Israel voices on campus are drowned out by accusations of apartheid and calls for BDS.

IAW promoters are shutting down open debate on Israel and Palestine by shoving their one-sided hyperbole down the throats of other students. Like Centurion, the best place for this poison is the sick bucket.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Here are the Issues That Will Win the Hearts of College Kids in 2016

Zachary Burns, a babyfaced redhead, has only been on this earth 19 years, yet he knows enough to want to go back to the good old days in America.  “I read in history textbooks that America was once expanding and booming,” said Burns, whose dress shirt and tie clashes with his American flag patterned pants. “Now all I see is gridlock.”

Burns, a student at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, was part of a predominantly college-aged crowd who recently attended the largest conservative conference of the year, eager to have a say in the political process.

In a totally unscientific method, The Daily Signal interviewed multiple college students at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, outside Washington D.C. to find out what issues they care about going into the 2016 presidential race.

The consensus? On the surface, it seems that few of the interviewees want the same things.

Some of the young people, the job seekers, simply want employment when they graduate college, and they hope their (often expensive) education provides them the tools to be competitive. Others, the innovators, crave an economy free of regulations so they can pursue their dreams unimpeded.

And still others, the world weary, just hope to be safe, to feel protected and to see their country use its power to overcome threats.

But though the college students see the world differently, they really want the same thing. They want a leader who can carry out their vision for America, and they came here to find that person.

Burns is clear about what he would like in an ideal world. “I like free enterprise,” said Burns, listing Donald Trump and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as potential Republican presidential candidates who impressed him at CPAC.  “I like innovation. I like straight-forward, to-the-point guys. I don’t care about age. I just want someone who can get the job done.”

NOTE:  Omid Esmaili has advised me that he did not say the things reported below  -- JR

Omid Esmaili is only 21, but he’s achieving just fine in America.  Esmaili, a senior at Stony Brook University University in New York, created his own app, called Colltures, that shows students what’s happening on their college campus at any given moment.

But Esmaili worries his creativity may be crunched by the Obama administration’s adoption of “Net Neutrality” regulations for the Internet, the concept that all online content should be treated equally.

“There shouldn’t be government involvement in how the Internet works,” Esmaili says. “The reason you can create such innovative products is because no one is hovering over you. Speed is such an important part of the experience. If you are messing with speed, and how quickly I can do the service, you are hindering my innovation, literally.”

Esmaili can’t hide his thoughts on which potential 2016 candidate can best keep government out of his life. He wears an “I Stand with Rand” button.  A libertarian, Esmaili supports Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and his father Ron before that, but not purely for selfish reasons. Esmaili thinks Paul is the only GOP candidate who can win — for all Republicans.

“Rand has created a new place to play,” Esmaili says. “Rand has a practical, middle-man approach. It’s a situational, reasonable approach. He connects with different groups. A lot of kids don’t know what libertarianism is. I never knew there was a word for how I felt: that there is social and economic freedom. Rand can explain this in an attractive way to people.”

In the next breath, Esmaili, backed in this opinion by his friend and fellow 21-year-old attendee Mike Battey, argues that Republicans should avoid talking about things that “don’t necessarily matter.” 

Namely, the friends say, that means leaving alone the sensitive issue of same-sex marriage.  “The issue of same-sex marriage is not the most important thing in the universe,” Esmaili says. “The economy is so screwed up, people should be paying attention to that.”

Adds Battey: “Government should be out of marriage because it’s not a legislative function of government. Whoever someone else decides to marry doesn’t impact my life.”

Briana Jamshid, a 20-year-old student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, is ready to fight for what she believes America’s role in the world should be.  Jamshid is enlisted in the Army National Guard. She’s honored to serve her country, but she hopes to do so in the right places.

“ISIS needs to be eliminated,” says Jamshid, who claims to be open-minded about which politician she would support in that mission. “We definitely should be boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria. But we should stay out of the Ukraine conflict.”

Aaron Hass, a 22-year-old student at State University of New York at Oneonta, is similarly concerned about the Middle East.

“The Middle East is vital to our trade,” says Hass, who is a fan of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “It is vital to defend the nation of Israel. They are a minority in the world and they need to know they have a friend. America is the big dog in the world. If you pet the big dog it will be your friend. If not, it will bite.”

Before Audrey Rusnak, 21, can fret about taking on the world, she has a more top-of-mind concern.  “College is too expensive,” says Rusnak, who admirers Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s rags-to-riches story. “I just hope it pays off in landing me a job.”


Common Core: a Major Deciding Factor for Independent Voters in 2016

Putting the brakes on Common Core will be a major campaign issue in 2016

On the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a panel, moderated by Sabrina Schaeffer of the Independent Women’s Forum, met to discuss what’s next for Common Core. Their conclusion: Common Core will be a very important platform stance in the 2016 election. They are completely right.

With public support for Common Core standards steadily declining, and more and more states pulling out of Common Core, in addition to teachers resigning over the federal standards, attitudes towards a single policy have never been more clear and uniform. Teachers hate having their freedom to teach restricted, parents want their children to be taught, not taught how to take a test, and children want to be treated like individuals, not statistics. Recent protests of the standards and walkouts on Common Core testing have indicated that increasing opposition to Common Core will not be silenced, and will not go away.

Many independent voters with their children’s best interests at heart will be looking to 2016 candidates with opposition to Common Core as a major factor in their decision. Voters want a candidate who recognizes that their children and their students have different strengths, learning styles, interests, and abilities. During the panel at CPAC, Emmet McGroarty of the American Principles Project suggested that support of Common Core would be a stance that Hillary Clinton would undoubtedly use against a Republican opponent, making the election extremely difficult to win for the Republican nominee.


Ivory tower hypocrites of the century: Rutgers bans Condoleezza Rice but welcomes Mariela Castro

Rutgers University -- a public school funded by taxpayers -- has invited the daughter of Raul Castro to be the keynote speaker at a conference it is hosting.

Of course, the conference is on Mariela Castro's totally bogus "expertise" on sexuality, especially of the non-heterosexual kind.

Yes, the very same kind of sexuality that her father and uncle identified as criminal and punished with imprisonment and torture in their concentration camps and dungeons.

This invitation is the ultimate in hypocrisy and sheer lunacy.

For starters, inviting the daughter of two of the worst  unrepentant tyrants in modern history to be a keynote speaker on any subject should be considered a horrible mistake by anyone with half a brain and half a soul.

Add to this the fact that inviting the daughter of two tyrants who persecuted non-heterosexuals to be the keynote speaker at a conference on non-heterosexual sexuality should be considered an insult to all who favor LGBTQ rights.

Add to this the fact that this is a university, for God's sakes -- a university, a center of learning -- and this becomes an insult to the intelligence and honor of all who are part of that institution.

Then, to top it all off, add to this the fact that the faculty of this university and many of its students have taken umbrage in the recent past at other speakers they consider unworthy, such as Condoleezza Rice.

Yes, this is the same institution where hundreds of professors asked their president to rescind the former Secretary of State's invitation to their commencement ceremonies.

Here is a brief excerpt from the letter of protest signed by more than 350 Rutgers faculty members:

"The mission of a University is to promote truth and knowledge, including historical knowledge. A commencement speaker is supposed to represent a model of citizenship to graduating students. To have Condoleezza Rice perform this role at Rutgers betrays both our mission and the trust of our students. It dishonors the Board and all of us....

The decision of the Board of Governors to award an honorary Law degree to someone who deceived her country and condoned an attempt to legalize torture dishonors both Rutgers and the law. It is also a slap in the face to the students and their educators....We seem to be saying that both our students and their teachers should ignore history and be indifferent to crimes committed....

We urge the Board of Governors to reverse its shocking and indecent decision."

Really?   Is that so?   You won't let anyone speak at your school who isn't "a model of citizenship"?   Really?

You won't allow anyone to speak at your school who condones torture?  Or anyone who lies to their country?  Really?

Hypocrites. Hyenas. Weasels. Scumbags. Vermin. None of these epithets suffice.

The academics who will welcome Mariela Castro and clap and cheer and pose for photos with her are so vile that no string of epithets -- no matter how long -- could ever serve to describe their villainous hypocrisy and their thirst for repression.

Are they any different from Nazis?  No, not really.

They love to silence those they disagree with, and at the same time love to praise someone like Mariela Castro, with whom they assume that they agree and with whom they feel some solidarity despite all of the despicable crimes that her family has committed, which they have never, ever, repented for, much less paid for.

Will anyone at Rutgers protest this visit?  Northern New Jersey is home for a lot of Cuban exiles, and many of them have attended Rutgers. Many are enrolled right now.  Will these Cubans speak up?  Will anyone listen to them, if they do?  Will anyone else express dismay over this nauseating display of hypocrisy?

Don't count on it.  There are far too many so-called intellectuals at Rutgers eager to kiss Mariela's bloodstained hands.  As long as she doesn't condemn her father's and uncle's actions -- and keeps praising them instead -- the blood they have spilled is on her hands too.


Monday, March 09, 2015

Why won’t we tell students that Kant is better than the Koran?

The problem on campus isn’t hate preaching — it’s academic cowardice

Following the unmasking of Jihadi John as Mohammed Emwazi, a London-raised computer-studies graduate of the University of Westminster, there’s been a lot of media heat over the problem of campus radicalism. How did universities become breeding grounds for beheaders, ask startled observers, allegedly turning students into aspiring martyrs dreaming of spilling infidel blood and getting it on with 72 virgins? Universities are supposed to enlighten youngsters, not turn them into medieval decapitators. The Uni-panickers, including David Cameron, are now suggesting that we should ban from campuses so-called hate preachers, those finger-wagging dispensers of Islamist dimwittery, in order to prevent impressionable minds from being twisted beyond repair.

But amid all this heat, there’s also been a moment of light. It came in a Washington Post piece by Avinash Tharoor, who studied international relations at Westminster, Jihadi John’s alma mater. Tharoor describes a seminar discussion of Immanuel Kant’s democratic peace theory in which something shocking happened. A student in a niqab scoffed at Kant and said: ‘As a Muslim, I don’t believe in democracy.’ Even more shocking was the response. ‘Our instructor seemed astonished but did not question the basis of her argument’, says Tharoor. ‘Why hadn’t the instructor challenged her?’, he asks, perplexed, especially considering that her Kant-bashing views, her sniffiness about this top dog of Enlightenment, were not rare but rather were ‘prevalent within the institution’.

This snapshot is important because it reveals a side to the Islamism-at-Uni problem that’s too often overlooked: the failure of academic institutions themselves to confront radical Islamist students and tell them they’re talking crap, and more fundamentally their failure to defend rational knowledge and the Enlightenment itself. The current obsession with hate preachers, and the notion that they’re stealing through the academy and corrupting minds, dodges the far bigger problem of intellectual and moral corrosion within the academy itself, the emergence over the past 30 years of a relativistic, ‘safe’ climate that actively discourages the elevation of any way of thinking over any other and calls into question the value of knowledge itself. If, as Tharoor says, some students ‘feel comfortable advocating dangerous and discriminatory beliefs’, it will be because they’ve sussed that they won’t be corrected; they know they’ll never be told: Kant is better than the Koran.

There’s undoubtedly an Islamist problem on campus. I have given numerous talks for Islamic Societies in universities, and I have been pretty disturbed by what I have seen and heard. I’ve seen row after row of British-born kids trying to look as foreign as possible, the men in smocks (their Nike trainers sticking out the bottom), and the women in fashion-conscious veils, the really edgy ones covering up everything but their eyes. It’s fashion as fuck-you, where the aim is to appear as ostentatiously non-Western as possible, so that your very presence becomes a challenge to any speaker who was thinking of asserting his secular beliefs over your religious ones. And I’ve heard these Brits-in-desert-dress argue that freedom is overrated: a packed hall of them laughed when I cited John Stuart Mill on how freedom of choice is the only thing that allows us to assume moral responsibility for our lives.

At a debate on Israel, one Muslim student referred to Jews as pigs. The response was amazing: many students said nothing, while others referred to the hate-speech manual in search of the right warning to give him. I just called him an ‘anti-Semitic shit’, and everyone was taken aback, including the anti-Semite, who, judging by his demeanour, had never been so explicitly called out on his backwardness.

My impression of these students who flirt with Islamism is not that they are spectacularly dangerous — certainly very, very few will become executioners for ISIS — but rather that they are trying their hand, seeing how far they can go in dissing what they see as Western ideas and texts and the old, apparently fake ideals of freedom and rationalism. Their arguments are actually flimsy, and easily laid to waste in debate, but they hold on to them because there’s very little pushing back against them.

There is no longer a vibrant, confident culture on campus devoted to slaying bad arguments and upholding good ones, to celebrating reason and Enlightened thought, and it is this dearth of Kantian daring, this refusal to assert the academy’s own intellectual superiority, which acts as an invitation to students to embrace other ways of thinking, secure in the knowledge that they won’t be rebuffed.

As Tharoor says, universities can be ‘unwittingly complicit in perpetuating [Islamic] radicalism’, through ‘allow[ing] Islamist extremism to go unchallenged’. This ‘unchallenging’ is the key problem. It speaks to what spiked’s education editor Joanna Williams describes as a rise of ‘anti-Enlightenment’ thinking within the academy, where ‘academic trends such as critical theory and post-structuralism, as well as political developments within feminism and left-wing politics’, have crashed together to create a judgement-dodging climate in which the very idea that any idea is better than another is often called into question.

What’s more, students are now told they have the right to exist in a ‘safe space’, an anti-social, anti-intellectual little world in which no one may challenge their identity or beliefs, and a whole armoury of terms has been invented to shoot down anything that has the whiff of an intellectual challenge to their ‘safety’ or self-esteem. The best-known is ‘Islamophobia’, which covers, not only acts of violence against Muslims, but criticism of Islam. A recent Washington Post piece described how even campus discussions of jihad and events in the Middle East are now trigger-warned for ‘Islamophobia’.

There are similar developments here: critique the beliefs of Islamist students and see how speedily you’ll be branded with the mental-illness tag of ‘Islamophobia’. Given that their universities won’t stand up for Kant or Mill or the superiority of rationalism over superstition, and considering their identities have been ringfenced from ridicule by a whole host of censorious slurs, is it any wonder some students flirt with non-academic, non-Western ideas? The academy implicitly invites them to, by sending the message that its own values aren’t that great, and it unwittingly encourages them to hold on to their non-academic ideas by safe-spacing them from robust critique.

When Cameron and others say we must ban hate preachers, they’re missing the point, and making the problem worse. Rather than think about how we might re-fortify the academy, and breathe life back into the Enlightenment side in the battle of ideas, they avoid the battle of ideas entirely in favour of silencing those who spout Islamist rubbish. In doing so, they advertise their intellectual defensiveness, which can only further inflame those students who already think freedom is a sham and ‘the West’ is a hollow and phoney phenomenon.

We should let everyone speak, including the haters, and we should simultaneously challenge the cult of relativism on campus and strip away every slur that is now used to silence those who criticise superstition or stupidity and who uphold Enlightenment values. We should tell students that, with his call on humanity to grow up, to dare to know, and to use moral reasoning to impact on the world, Kant is worthy of close and serious study. Kant is better than the Koran. And if they cry Islamophobia? Do that thing with your fingers to signify the playing of the world’s smallest violin just for them.


A plea to Arizona legislators regarding Common Core

The Arizona House of Representatives Education Committee meeting on House Bill 2190 was strikingly similar to the landscape of American opinion on Common Core. Among the legislators and those who spoke at the meeting, there were some supporters, some starkly against Common Core, and some still on the fence.

The House bill to repeal and replace Common Core passed in a 5–2 vote on February 18 along party lines to move out of committee and onto the House floor.

According to both legislators and grassroots activists, since the committee approved the bill, the education establishment and its allies have mounted intense pressure to scrap HB 2190. The bill’s opponents say opposition to Common Core is nothing more than “a popular conservative political tack.”
All Arizona legislators should truly examine this issue and think before casting their votes. To so easily dismiss the voices of their constituents, including parents and teachers, would be a great disservice to Arizona’s students, families, and taxpayers. Here are five reasons Arizona should repeal and replace Common Core.

First, even if forfeiting state and local control of education is a good idea (and it isn’t), the standards should set the bar higher for students than Common Core does. Curriculum experts and educators across the country say the Core standards are mediocre at best.

Prominent among these critics is Sandra Stotsky, a professor of education at the University of Arkansas who served as senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, where she was in charge of developing the state’s renowned K–12 English language standards. Stotsky was once a member of the validation committee for Common Core, but she refused to sign off on the standards once she saw how lackluster they are. Stanford University mathematics professor James Milgram is another former Common Core validation committee member who has since lambasted the standards.

Other professors across the country have joined policy analysts such as Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute, Lindsey Burke of The Heritage Foundation, and Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute to identify major flaws in the standards. Those against Common Core include teachers unions, Democrats and Republicans, and parents, teachers, and taxpayers.

Second, the standards do not meet the needs of many students. Common Core largely fails to help students who are on the highest and lowest ends of the achievement scale, because it prescribes specific methods as the only way to arrive at a correct answer. For special-needs students and younger students, especially in grades K–3, the standards are widely considered developmentally inappropriate, according to educators and child psychologists.

Third, the rigidity of the Common Core standards forces many teachers to build lesson plans based on what they think will be on a standardized test rather than based on students’ needs. Standards, curricula, and assessments require different proposals, programs, and plans, although they are intrinsically interconnected.

The tests aligned with Common Core come from two consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced. The educational resources used by districts mostly come from three publishers vying for the same money. The big three publishers that sell products aligned with Common Core standards are Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw Hill. District officials purchase textbooks and other educational resources, so teachers follow standards set for them. Unless state officials select and implement different standards, the educational resources and assessments used will inevitably be aligned with Common Core. Given the extent to which standards and assessments affect curriculum development, it’s obvious teachers have no room to decide what to teach and how to teach it if the state mandates use of Common Core.

Fourth, under both the U.S. Constitution and existing federal law, the states have full authority over education and curricula. State and local control is valuable because it leads to the incorporation of community values in education, parental involvement, and accountability to local taxpayers. Scientific evidence shows education standards do not improve student achievement.

Finally, states imposed Common Core not by their own choice but because of coercion by the federal government. State officials signed up for the standards because the Obama administration offered a chance to obtain billions of federal dollars through the Race to the Top program and threatened to remove No Child Left Behind waivers. To get that carrot and avoid the stick, state officials forfeited their own authority and the rights of the taxpayers. Even if Common Core is a valuable program (and again, it isn’t), the price is far too high for its supposed benefits.

Common Core is not what its proponents promised, and lawmakers should not compound their mistake by carrying on with these bad standards. The Arizona legislature should take back control of the state’s education system by dumping Common Core and implementing better standards designed by Arizonans for Arizonans.


British schoolboy, 10, faces expulsion for taking a fake orange gun to class on bring-a-toy day

A 10-year-old boy is facing expulsion from school after teachers called the police when he brought in a fake orange gun for bring-a-toy session.  Little Jayden Taljaard took the model handgun - which does not fire or make a noise - to a regular Friday class where pupils can bring their own toys.

But staff called the police after three teachers reported feeling 'threatened' by the replica.

It emerged today that Jayden has been immediately suspended from Selwood Academy in Frome, Somerset, and has been told he could be permanently excluded.

A police officer is due to visit the youngster at home to warn him of the dangers of firearms.

But Jayden's stepfather Kevin Pleasants said the schoolboy had made a simple mistake and the issue has been 'blown out of all proportion'.

The 56-year-old construction worker said: 'We were totally unaware that a bright orange toy gun that doesn't fire anything would cause so much mayhem.  'We have a policeman coming to the house to give him a lecture on the dangers of firearms - he's 10, it's ridiculous.

'It's being blown out of all proportion. We had no idea about the school's policy on toy guns. It's a simple mistake.

'He asked his mother if he could take a toy to school. She didn't let him at first. He explained about golden time and took the gun.

'Three teachers said they felt threatened by this gun. Could they not see it was bright orange and plastic?'

Jayden's school holds the so-called 'Golden Hour' sessions for the last hour of every Friday where pupils are allowed to bring in a toy of their choice.

But Jayden was suspended after taking in the replica weapon on February 27 and told not to return until Monday 9 March.

At meeting on Wednesday evening, his mother Natasha was then told his exclusion could be made permanent.

Jayden suffers from ADHD and other learning difficulties but was making good progress at the school since joining in September, according to his parents.

Mr Pleasants, from Frome, added: 'He was supposed to go back on Monday but my partner had a meeting at the school and they said he might not be allowed back.

'He was doing fine at the school. He brought an award home for very good behaviour. I framed it and it is on his wall.'

Mr Pleasants added: 'My partner is devastated by this. She is in a state of depression. She feels like she has failed as a mother.

'I think that they can't handle Jayden and this is an excuse. We worked hard to find the right medication for him and we think we finally have. He was making progress.

'We received a letter saying he is not allowed out in public otherwise we might face prosecution because he is not in school.  'He has to stay in the house all day. It's like he is a prisoner in his own home. Natasha is an assistant nurse and she has had to take time off work.'

Headteacher Jean Hopegood said the school would be 'dealing with the matter internally'


Sunday, March 08, 2015

Forget your homework, get back on the PlayStation! Children addicted to games consoles do BETTER at school

I wonder what the opinionated Baroness Greenfield will think of this?  It contradicts her rather decisively. 

My son has been a computer games freak since he was 2 and he is convinced that games do promote useful decision-making skills.  He now has a science degree with first class  honours in mathematics so the games certainly did him no harm

Children who spend a lot of time playing video games do better at school, an international study has suggested.

The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said there was strong evidence that playing computer games on handheld consoles like Nintendo DSs and Sony PSPs had 'positive effects on learning'.

It said many games 'incorporate good learning principles' and can 'hone problem-solving skills'.

Girls are more likely to get higher marks at school because teachers like them more, an international report has found.

Teachers consistently give better results to girls even when they perform similarly in international tests, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said.

It suggests that teachers have a 'gender bias' towards girls because they are well behaved and listen in class.

'Girls' better marks may reflect the fact that they tend to be 'better students' than boys: they tend to do what is required and expected of them, thanks to better self-regulation skills, and they are more driven to excel in school,' the study says.

But this may harm girls' future career prospects, the OECD suggests, because bosses reward people based on what they can do rather than their school grades.

Students who play one-player video games between once a month and almost every day perform better in mathematics, reading, science and problem solving than students who hardly ever play games, the OECD said.

But the evidence shows that playing computer games only helps children at school if they are not competing against other people over the internet.

Boys are much more likely than girls to play computer games – but often get caught up in shoot 'em ups and other online competitions against other players, the study said.

This means that playing on the computer at home helps girls more than boys. The report said: 'The gender gap in video gaming translates into a performance advantage for girls.'

However, it also warns that the 'addictive nature of gaming' has its downsides.

It said: 'Students who play video games excessively might not be able to focus on their work at school, may be less willing to spend time on school work at home, might develop sleep problems, and might be less perseverant if there are no immediate rewards for their efforts, like those offered in gaming.'

Today's shock research comes after Boris Johnson claimed video games were helping children become 'nicer, kinder and more well-balanced' than their parents – and was even helping to cut crime.

The London Mayor ridiculed claims mobile phones and handheld games consoles were turning youngsters into 'lidless lizards'.

Mr Johnson said he understood people's concerns when they saw their children 'bathed perpetually in the light of the screen gazing like lidless lizards at whatever depraved and corrupting material they can find'.

But Mr Johnson said: 'I see no evidence whatever that tech is coarsening or depraving the young people of today.

'In fact I would say that on the whole the younger generation are nicer, kinder, more well-balanced and more emotionally literate than my lot ever were.'

The London Mayor added: 'And when you consider the very steep falls in crime that we are seeing not just in London but across the developed world and when you consider that crime is overwhelmingly committed by young men you have to wonder whether there is a correlation - a link between the tech boom and the rise in civility.

'What do they suffer from, the young men who are so foolish as to get sucked into crime? Anger, low self-esteem, a sense of social exclusion - a feeling that no one much cares about them.

'And what do they get from these gizmos – endless opportunities for self-expression, communication - the myriad pipette drops of self-affirmation that come with the selfie and the text and the shared video.'


Common Core Testing Sparks Walkouts

Students around the country are fleeing standardized testing

In New Mexico, hundreds of high school students are walking out of class in protest of the new Common Core-aligned tests just implemented in the state. This is part of larger movement nationwide by parents and students to protest the standards, while without waiting for state legislatures to act.

The students are concerned that the increased focus on testing is detracting from more meaningful education goals - a concern that is very much justified.

Education is far too complex a thing to be captured by a single number, but a recent obsession with “international competitiveness” by policy makers in Washington, DC has led to the Department of Education demanding more and more testing in exchange for flexibility waivers for No Child Left Behind and funding from Race to the Top.

The problem with this is that standardized tests really only measure one thing - how good you are at taking standardized tests. In the real world, people compete by being creative, original, diligent, entrepreneurial, and professional, not by rote memorization. This is why countries whose children perform well on standardized tests frequently have little to show in terms of economic and scientific innovation - areas in which the United States traditionally shines.

The more test scores are emphasized, the more classroom time must be devoted to test preparation, and like every other decision, this carries an opportunity cost. Time spent “teaching to the test” is time that cannot be spent on more productive activities, for example, encouraging critical thinking skills and allowing students to explore their own curiosity.

It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of an increasingly inflexible education bureaucracy that values conformity over genuine learning, but the kinds of walk-outs we are seeing in New Mexico are an extremely powerful way to send a message that Common Core standards are not acceptable. If more students were willing to take the plunge and opt out of these tests, state legislatures would have little choice but to act. The symbol of thousands of children outright refusing the tests mandated by government is one that would be impossible to ignore. All it takes to create political change is for brave people to stand up and fight.


Going Bananas: A Case Study in Media-Manufactured Racism

You can't say "niggardly" or "black holes" or "chink in the armor" without provoking protests or risking your job. You can't invoke the Constitution or call illegal behavior "illegal" without being accused of hatred. And now, you can't goof around at a high school basketball game in silly costumes without the world accusing you of "racial insensitivity."

Last week, thanks to hyperbolic grievance-mongers and irresponsible reporters, the students of Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, N.J., garnered international headlines and Internet infamy. "Shocking moment students at Catholic school dressed as monkeys and a banana and taunted black basketball players ... and DIDN'T get punished," the U.K. Daily Mail blared last week. "Students who taunted black players at New Jersey basketball game get warning, no punishment," USA Today decried., "the premier destination for African-American pop culture and entertainment," exclaimed: "Really?!? White High School Students Taunt Black Basketball Team in Monkey and Banana Costumes."

No, not really.

If any of these media outlets had bothered breathing into paper bags before making abject fools of themselves, they might have actually committed journalism. Holy Spirit is a tight-knit community with a 50-year tradition of excellence in academics, sports and character education. I know more than a little about the school and its student body because I am a proud alumna of H.S.H.S. and have stayed in touch with many of its dedicated teachers and administrators over the years.

Part of Holy Spirit's half-century legacy includes a storied athletic rivalry with nearby Atlantic City High School. The competition between the Holy Spirit Spartans and the Atlantic City Vikings has always been fierce but friendly. At a basketball game two weeks ago, Holy Spirit students decided to show their team spirit by recreating Arizona State University's famous "Curtain of Distraction" during their rivals' foul shots.

Unlike the pot-stirrers who've turned an innocent prank into an international p.c. incident, Holy Spirit's senior class president Pat Shober was actually in the stands on Feb. 18 during the game. He donned a green ballerina tutu for the foul shot skits. Other students scrounged up a bumblebee suit, monkey pajamas, costumes for Dorothy from the "Wizard of Oz," a jack-o'-lantern and a banana.

"The fan section was louder than it had been all season long, and the fans, of both sides I may add, were thoroughly amused and actually complimented many of us on our actions numerous times both at the game itself and throughout the time since then," Shober recounted in an open letter to the public.

"Racism was not brought up once by a student, player or spectator that night. We intended no racist connotations during our performances that night."

The Spartans had used the costumes at previous games without controversy. Ray Ellis, a black Holy Spirit alumnus and former football player, had dressed up as the banana at a sports match three years ago. The 19-year-old athlete tweeted a photo of himself in costume after the manufactured brouhaha, which he rightly called "ridiculous." Ellis explained to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Phil Anastasia — one of the few responsible journalists who covered the story — that "we get creative at games, we dress up in costumes, we show a lot of enthusiasm. ... Other people see what they want to see and try to make it into something it's not."

Indeed, race didn't enter the picture until two error-riddled reports from the Press of Atlantic City appeared a week after the game occurred and snowballed into global tabloid hysteria. The paper extensively quoted an Atlantic City high school coach who wasn't even there. The paper failed to mention that the vast majority of the Holy Spirit basketball team is black. The paper neglected to describe the full array of costumes involved. Nor did it quote any of the kids involved in the skits.

Anastasia, who was in attendance, noted: "I was there that night in Absecon. There were black kids along with white kids in that student section, yelling at Atlantic City's players and cheering for Holy Spirit players. And for the record, there were times during that game when Atlantic City had more white players on the floor (two) than Holy Spirit."

Stephen Brown, a Holy Spirit alumnus who graduated last year and has many friends at the school, told me: "It is a classic example of how the race card is so unfairly pulled, and in this case is being used to vilify innocent high school students." Showing more maturity than the Chicken Little instigators in newsrooms around the world who defamed his fellow Spartans, Brown reflected: "This is not only a perfect example of poor journalism, but an example of how members of the biased media like to stir the racial pot."

What we have here is a textbook case of media-manufactured racism. Knee-jerk race-baiters who see bigotry at every turn are an embarrassment to the profession. Shame on the smear merchants and their enablers who go bananas over every last imagined slight and recklessly monkey around with students' lives and reputations.

The cage-rattlers don't care about truth, honor or integrity. Lesson learned: It's a social justice jungle out there, kids. Be prepared.